Do you wear a back or chest protector on the trail? It can be difficult to decide which body parts to protect, and which to leave to the pokey whims of the forest floor. Like packing a rain jacket during shoulder season rides, you won’t know if you need it until it’s too late. I wear a back protector any time I am shuttling or riding chairlifts when the added layer doesn’t overheat things, or any time I want to neglect the brakes and shave some time off a descent.
Regardless of your where and when rationale, anyone who enjoys fast and rough descents could likely use some torso protection. I have been sweating in five different spine savers to determine the benefits and faults of each. All but one of these protectors is intended to be worn beneath a jersey, and they’re displayed externally herein to show details and fit characteristics.
|Bluegrass Armour Lite||€130||424g|
|Bluegrass Armour B&S D30||€190||636g|
|Dainese Trail Knit Pro-Armour Tee||€170||476g|
|Leatt Body Tee Airflex Stealth||€219||725g|
|POC VPD System Back||€180||639g|
Bluegrass Armour Lite
This vest-style back protector is my personal favorite style, and Bluegrass recently made their Armour Lite protector even better by adding three lumbar pockets and a hydration bladder pouch. The pockets are similar in size to those found on the back of a traditional lycra jersey, and the protection sleeve that doubles as a bladder pouch will hold any 1L, vertically-oriented water bag you want to slide inside. There is a hydration hose loop on the right shoulder to keep your mouthpiece handy while riding.
The Armour Lite fits snug beneath any jersey, and its transparent material is as lightweight as a layer can get while maintaining a stretchy and durable build throughout. I tested a size small (also my jersey size) and the fit is as comfortable as a well made baselayer. It’s an ideal piece of protection to zip up during an enduro race when you’re required to wear protection throughout the event. You can unzip it on the climbs to increase air flow, and its highly breathable material will dry quickly on a windy descent.
Three layers of foam make up the spine protector, and each has slices along its edges to conform to your back shape. A series of twelve holes along the center provide an added degree of ventilation, and every bit will be appreciated if you have to climb in this vest, a full face helmet, and kneepads for a few hours. The protective foam can be removed on laundry day.
The 3-layer EVA protector is EN 1621-2 Level 1 certified, and neck brace compatible.
Bluegrass Armour B&S D30
Stepping it up a notch on the body protection front, the Armour B&S D30 adds a pair of sleeves, with spine and shoulder protectors that are both made from the space-agey D30 material and six single-layer foam pads, that are similar to those in the Armour Lite, span the chest. To compensate for the added material Bluegrass opened up the armpits, though this padded shirt is notably warmer than the smaller vest shown above.
The folks at Bluegrass clearly thought of comfort when they designed this shirt, as none of the seams or stitching dig in when it’s worn directly against the skin. The fit is tight enough to keep it properly in place, while the stretchy material allows for ample breathing room.
Unlike other shoulder padded shirts, the Armour B&S D30 doesn’t make you look like an American football player, and it fits under most jerseys just fine. It includes the same three snack pockets across the lumbar, and H2O sleeve along the spine.
The back and shoulder padding is removable for washing, and the chest pads go in the washing machine along with the shirt.
All of the protectors are compliant with EN 1621-2, Level 1 certification, and it’s neck brace compatible.
Dainese Trail Knit Pro-Armour Tee
The Trail Knit Pro-Armour Tee from Dainese takes a slightly different approach to armour by incorporating padding into their technical base layer. The main Dryarn® material is super stretchy, and Dainese says it’s also “bacteriostatic, hypoallergenic, and anti-odor.” The shirt not only holds important padding but it also offers compression and has thinner micromesh material under the arms to boost ventilation.
While this tight tee does fit well beneath a jersey, it can be tough to get it off if you manage to soak it in sweat. A zippered closure would be a welcome upgrade, which you can find on several of the larger safety jackets from Dainese. I had to ask for help pulling it over my head after a long sweaty ride, and if you perspire heavily there is likely another protector that will work better.
Leatt Body Tee Airflex Stealth
Back on the zippered-shirt side of protection, The Body Tee Airflex Stealth from Leatt offers a long spine protection panel, shoulder pads, and a single sternum pad up front. The main shirt material breathes as well as the Bluegrass shirt above, and it stretches to accommodate deep sprinting breaths. Leatt says that the fabric has anti-odor and moisture-wicking properties. While it does seem to dry quickly on descents, I’ve never experienced a shirt that doesn’t smell at the end of a ride. This one is no exception. Leatt does make a sleeveless protector vest along with several full sleeve options.
There is a lot of padding in this protector, and it definitely gets warm inside. The cutout armpits let a little extra breeze through, and the front can be unzipped on climbs to increase airflow. Both the upper neck and central spine padding are removable, though the other back, chest, and shoulder pads remain intact, making this a hand-wash piece of gear. While all of these protestors will last longer if washed by hand, the Body Tee Airflex Stealth is the only one that specifically requires it.
The shell fits a touch looser than those above, and it all works well beneath a jersey. The back and shoulder protectors are all EN1621-2 Level 1 certified and neck brace compatible. Available at Competitive Cyclist and JensonUSA.
POC VPD System Back
The VDP System by POC is the only protector I tested that is made to fit well over or under a jersey, and it’s also rated for either mountain biking or snow sports. It is super simple to fit, with a pair of adjustable shoulder straps and a belly belt to keep it in place. The protector itself is covered in holes and breathes better than most of the others in this roundup. Those same holes help it conform to the shape of your back for a comfortable fit. This would be another good option to wear all day during an enduro race.
I don’t enjoy wearing the VDP System protector directly against my skin, as the slotted rubber has a slimy feeling when it becomes wet. Over a base layer or jersey is definitely preferable.
We would like to thank the above brands for sending protectors to test and review.